Monday, February 23, 2015

Gung Hay Fat Choy

by Megan S.

I spotted the tiniest lion this weekend, animated by two children who couldn't have been more than eight years old.
In the next two weeks, San Francisco will continue to fill with dragons and lions (oh my!), bringing luck and good fortune as a part of the Chinese lunar new year. The celebrations mark the start of the Year of the Ram.* The annual festivities have been celebrated in my hometown since the 1860s, only a few years after California's statehood, and the 2015 events began this past Thursday.

In Cantonese, the traditional San Francisco Chinese dialect since the days of the railroads, the sign reads "Gung hay fat choy" or "Best wishes and congratulations for a prosperous new year."
I have loved Lunar New Year for as long as I can remember. The sharp, bitter scent of fireworks floats on the wind, lanterns sway under canopies, the air vibrates with pounding drums, and charred red paper scraps and leafy greens litter the streets when the lions and dragons dance. Martial arts troops dressed as the mythical animals visit local shops and restaurants. Parading up and down the streets of local business districts, the performers bring good luck to those they visit. And, no matter how old I am, I run out of the front door in my pajamas when I hear the drums beat the unmistakable rhythm.

A video posted by Megan S. (@moxiesix) on

There are a number of traditions associated with the events, most notably eating feasts with loved ones and handing out luck money. Our local banks are bogged down with long lines the week prior to the start, with patrons withdrawing money to fill small, shiny red envelopes called hong bao that they will give to children and unmarried single people.

Love my dragon plates? You can pick them up at Williams-Sonoma. They're sold individually in the stores.
Food also plays an important role in the celebration. Friends and family gather to eat delicious goodies symbolizing prized things. People eat noodles as a symbol of long life and devour dumplings like the ones I had this Saturday (the har gow above) because they resemble money purses.

If you ever get the chance to visit San Francisco, Lunar New Year is one of the most lively times to experience my hometown.

*Yes, there's debate this year if it's the ram or the sheep or the goat, but when I was a kid (because the "year of" creatures are on a twelve year cycle) it was a ram so I'm sticking with tradition.

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